Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Covent Garden launches 2013/14 live cinema season

Lise Lindstrom as Turandot, Royal Opera House: photo Tristram Kenton 2013
Lise Lindstrom as Turandot
photo Tristram Kenton 2013
Last night the first of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden's cinema transmissions was relayed to cinemas all over the world, launching the 2013/14 cinema season with a live performance of Puccini's Turandot with Lise Lindstrom, Marco Berti and Eri Nakamura conducted by Henrik Nanasi (see my review of last week's first night). The Royal Opera House's cinema transmission has grown from three titles broadcast to 200 sites, to ten titles in 1000 cinemas in 40 countries. Talking at the press launch at the Mayfair Hotel, Antonio Pappano, the Royal Opera's music director, spoke about how he felt that it was right that the Royal Opera share performances to as wide an audience as possible and that there was real appetite and interest for the Royal Opera House's work.

The figures are quite impressive. On 13 December 2012, over 32,000 people watched The Nutcracker broadcast live in the UK, it was the UK's second highest grossing film that night, sitting between The Hobbit and Skyfall in the UK Box Office chart. Almost 40,000 people in the UK watched the single screening of Christopher Wheeldon's ballet Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Over 33,000 watched La Boheme on 13/1/2013 making the film the second highest grossing film that night (between Les Miserables and Gangster Squad).


The Live Cinema season continues on 16 October with a live relay of Carlos Acosta's new production of Petipa's ballet Don Quixote (with music by Ludwig Minkus). Then Royal Opera's much anticipated new production of Verdi's Les Vepres Siciliennes with Bryan Hymel, Marina Poplavskay and Erwin Schrott, conducted but Antonio Pappano and directed by Stefan Herheim is relayed on 4 November.

Three other new operatic productions are being transmitted this season, giving cinema goers the chance to see Stephen Langridge's new production of Wagner's Parsifal with Simon O'Neill, Rene Papa, Gerald Finley, Willard Whit eand Angela Denoke, conducted by Antonio Pappano (18/12/2013), Kasper Holten's second production for the Royal Opera House, Mozart's Don Giovanni with Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role (12/2/2014), and Jonathan Kent's new production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut with Kristine Opolais, Jonas Kaufmann and Christopher Maltman conducted by Antonio Pappano (24/6/2014). Christopher Wheeldon's new full length ballet, The Winter's Tale with music by Jody Talbot is relayed on 28/4/2013, other ballets in the season are The Nutcracker (12/12/2013) and Giselle (27/1/2014)

The cinema relay of Turandot was directed for the screen by Ian Russell. Having see the production a few times in the opera house and reviewed in the theatre the first night of this revival, I was impressed with the way that Russell's camera work followed the emotional narrative of the performance whilst ensuring that none of the spectacular detail was missed. There were few, if any, of those moments when you look at the screen and feel that you are missing something, that the important action is elsewhere. Russell gave us plenty of close-ups of the performers, but thankfully did not have the annoying tendency to linger too long.

Watching the performance in the cinema is certainly a different experience from the theatre, you are closer to the action for a start. Though you miss out on the real feel of being in a live theatrical performance, the knowledge that what you are seeing is unedited live footage give the cinema experience something of this and, frankly, the cinema seats were a great deal roomier and more comfortable than those in the amphitheatre. And let's not forget, most seats at the Royal Opera House (at least those I can afford to sit in) are a reasonable distance from the stage.

Granted, you don't always want to see opera singers in real close up; top notes are rarely pretty. But the performance as captured by Russell's cameras was very vivid. Lindstrom made a strongly characterised Turandot, with her thrilling voice coming over well in the cinema. Marco Berti was perhaps a bit stiff, but he made up for this vocally. The three masks, Dionysios Sourbis, David Butt Philip and Doug Jones, have a lot of business in the production and being able to zoom the cameras in closer was of great benefit. I noted that, as captured by the recording, the balance problems I had noted at the first night had disappeared. Eri Nakamura's stunning performance as Liu was enhanced by being able to see her close too and witness her strong identification with the role.

The relay was prefixed with a short film which talked about the creation of this performance, with interviews with various cast members as well as designer Sally Jacobs and choreographer Kate Flatt. And I have to say that I found the footage completely fascinating, seeing how a familiar production was created from the other side and could have wished that the introductory film was longer.

For me, live cinema will never replace the thrill of actually being in the theatre, but it forms a very viable alternative for those unable to get to the theatre.

Further information about the Royal Opera House's Live Cinema season from their website.

Elsewhere on this blog:

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